WSJ features innovative Houston, reviewing drainage regulations, the problems of zoning, who's moving here and why
A few quick small items before the main item:
- Lots of op-eds calling for new development regulations after last week's flooding. I do think it's a good idea for the city and surrounding counties to form a joint commission (like this one at H-GAC) to review water runoff retention regulations for development and come up with a list of recommendations. The city can't do it alone - what really matters is the fast growing areas outside the city, especially to the west and north that drain to bayous through the city. The Grand Parkway is going to add a lot of new development, and that development has to hold back its runoff or things will only get worse in the city.
- Great infographic on Houston's growth and migration patterns, including where people are coming from and our affordability (unfortunately too big to embed here).
- Eight ways exclusionary zoning makes our communities more expensive and less just. A really strong, comprehensive list. Many cities are getting seriously messed up by this. Again, give thanks we don't have this issue in Houston - it's all but impossible to fix once a city goes down that path.
- WSJ: Why the Great Divide Is Growing Between Affordable and Expensive U.S. Cities. Turns out if you allow supply to keep up with demand, prices stay reasonable - surprise! That especially applies to outward suburban growth.
HOUSTON: Thriving but affordable
Pro-growth policies and light regulation, especially the lack of traditional zoning. make it easier and faster to build—and help keep housing more affordable for middle-income families than it is in coastal cities.
Many successful cities—most notably, London and San Francisco—have a glitch in their operating systems: Though they are growing rapidly, too many people are finding they can’t afford to live there.
Not Houston. From 2010 to 2014, the Texas city added more than 140,000 people, a 6.7% increase and second only to New York in the U.S. But the difference between Houston and other high-growth cities is that it has expanded its housing stock to accommodate its new residents. In roughly the same period, the Houston metro area issued construction permits for 189,634 new units, the most in the nation. It is not surprising, then, that more than 60% of homes in the larger Houston metro area are considered affordable for median-income families, according to the National Home Builders Association, compared with about 15% in the Los Angeles area.
Houston has “shown a capacity to grow without the kind of massive real-estate inflation that makes settling into places like New York, San Francisco, Boston, as well as London, all but impossible for middle-class families,” says Joel Kotkin, a fellow in urban studies at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism
Many factors contributed to the recent growth spurt: Houston is the hub of the recently booming oil industry, which is now going through a painful bust. It boasts a nationally recognized medical center and is home to a thriving port. But affordable housing also contributed, Mr. Kotkin and others say, thanks to pro-growth policies and a light regulatory touch, especially the lack of traditional zoning.
No zoning makes it easier and faster to build, especially in response to changing economic conditions. A developer can avoid a lengthy and expensive rezoning process to build a townhome complex in a declining neighborhood of aging single-family homes. It might have to upgrade sewer lines and streets, but development costs are still low compared with other places. Although prices have risen some as builders replace older homes with nicer housing, the city stays affordable because so many new homes can quickly come on the market to keep up with demand.
The lack of zoning “actually does give the developer and design communities the ability to do things unlike anywhere else,” says Tim Cisneros, a Houston architect.
Says Mr. Kotkin: “While many on the ocean coasts yearn to restore the 19th-century city, the Texas cities are creating a template for this century.”
Labels: affordability, census, development, governance, growth, home affordability, land-use regulation, opportunity urbanism, zoning